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15th Aug 2020

EU enlargement chief sceptical of Sarkozy 'wise men' idea

  • Commissioner Rehn - a strong supporter of enlargement (Photo: European Commission)

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn has dismissed a French idea to set up a wise committee to debate the future of Europe, including further enlargement, as not convincing.

"As to the famous idea of setting up a wise men's group to ponder the EU's future in 2020-2030, I am not sure if I am convinced of its added value", said Mr Rehn during a European Liberals congress in Berlin on Thursday (18 October).

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French president Nicolas Sarkozy in August suggested that an independent body be set up to discuss where Europe is heading – something he made a condition for Paris not blocking Turkey's EU membership talks.

The suggestion has so far been treated with caution by EU officials who wonder whether it will be able to bring new insights and whether it will be used to put a brake on further enlargement, notably Ankara's EU aspirations.

For his part, Mr Rehn said that there was probably "no reason to fear such a group".

"If it is really composed of wise men – and women, as it must – I am sure that they will see that enlargement is not the problem but rather a vital part of the solution to many problems that the EU will face in the coming decades", the commissioner stated, citing energy security, climate change, cross-border crime and ageing populations among the EU's future challenges.

In these and other areas, the integration of Turkey and the countries of the Western Balkans will only help the EU "manage the challenges ahead effectively", said the Finnish commissioner.

Mr Sarkozy would like the "wise men committee" to be set up during the December meeting of EU heads of state and government and to report back some time in the first half of 2009, before the European elections in June of that year.

It is still not clear who the 10 to 12 people sitting in this committee would be, but the general idea has already received the backing of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last month Ms Merkel offered support for the proposal on the condition that the group, while discussing enlargement, does not focus "exclusively" on Turkey.

Kosovo – a European problem

During his speech, commissioner Rehn also stressed the importance of the EU rather than the US or Russia, leading the process of finding a solution for the future status of Kosovo.

"It is important for Europe, because neither the United States nor Russia would pay the price if we would fail in Kosovo and therefore it is important that the EU is leading this process", he said.

The EU is "ready to turn every stone and even more for a negotiated solution", as the Kosovo issue will be a "test of the EU's credibility and capability to deal with security challenges on our own continent", he added.

However, the commissioner underlined that the goal of finding a negotiated solution will not be reached unless both Belgrade and Pristina adapt a "creative and constructive approach".

But a meeting between Serbian and Kosovar Albanian leaders on Sunday (14 October) in Brussels once again did not lead to a breakthrough. Both sides will meet again on Monday (22 October) in Vienna.

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